Working in Kabul: Bomb attack on Hazara protesters

Researching Security fellow Jorrit Kamminga was working for Oxfam in Kabul during the bomb attack on Hazara protesters on 23 July 2016

Photo_Jorrit_KammingaThe day before the attack was a Friday, the first day of the Afghan ‘weekend’ and Kabul was very calm. There are always reports of security incidents but most of these are very far away from the capital or at least from the heart of the city. Late in the afternoon, I had a very positive meeting with the Commander of the Resolute Support Mission, in which we spoke about the security situation but also about the many positive developments in Afghanistan over the past years, such as the increase of interaction between civil society and the state, with more citizens now demanding good governance and access to their basic rights.

My visit to Afghanistan had almost come to an end, and knowing there was no opportunity to leave the guesthouse the day after, as the protests of the Hazara minority had already been announced a week earlier, I quickly went shopping for presents in Chicken Street. I have been coming to this famous shopping area for eleven years now and the intensive bargaining (followed by still paying too much of course) has almost become routine. I know the shops and I know where I can quickly buy what I need. With a bag with some lapis lazuli stones, some jewelry, a nicely carved wooden box and a present for an Afghan colleague who managed to arrange my working permit in no time, I went back to the Oxfam guesthouse.

The next day, Saturday, starts with the normal routine. As our Afghan colleagues have their second day off, I can stay at the guesthouse, go to the gym and have a bit more time than usual for breakfast. I meet with a few work colleagues and we talk about the protests of the Hazara ethnic minority who are demanding that Bamyan province is connected to the planned electricity transmission line. While at first glance the Hazara protests are about the provision of basic services, they are at least partly motivated by broader perceptions of systematic bias against the Hazaras. According to the first news reports, the protests are peaceful and no serious incidents are reported. The international news on TV is still dominated by the shooting in Munich and the government crackdown in Turkey. My colleagues are joking that I will be stuck in Afghanistan as my flight back through Istanbul will surely be cancelled in these circumstances.

A few hours later, Kabul is in turmoil. The suicide attack occurs in the south-western part of the city. I am in Qala-e-Fatullah, two police districts to the north. I don´t hear the blasts but a moment later there is some shooting going on in my neighborhood, apparently nothing serious but some panicking local people or tense security forces. Even here in Kabul people still get upset when such attacks happen, especially because we did not witness an attack of this scale since December 2011 when 63 (also mostly Hazaras) died in an attack on a Shia shrine. The worst part is that this attack was targeted at civilians. In contrast, while many civilians also die in Taliban attacks, the Taliban usually target a specific government or international institution.

My colleagues and I are quite shocked and watching the images of the attacks on television somehow makes it difficult to grasp that this is actually happening in the same city. At least we hear that all Afghan colleagues are safe and accounted for. At two o’clock at night, there is some further shooting in the area of the guesthouse but for the rest everything is calm.

On Sunday, the first working day of the week, most Afghan people have the day off because President Ghani has declared a national day of mourning. While I drive around Kabul in the morning, it am astonished how quickly a city can return to normal. People go about their business and it is almost as if the terrorist attack never happened. Some roads are still blocked and the Hazara community is torn between continuing their demonstrations (forbidden during the day of mourning) and calls to turn this horrific event into a nation-wide act of solidarity with the 91 people who died and the 265 who were wounded.

There is no silver lining to this tragedy. It is terrorism at its worst: cowardly striking fear into the political heart of a country where many people are working firmly towards putting an end to poverty, instability and to at least 38 years of conflict. Islamic State has claimed responsibility, which makes this their first attack in Kabul or in an urban centre for that matter. It is not clear whether the predominantly Sunni terrorist organisation was deliberately targeting Shia Hazaras, whether it was retaliation against the substantial military offensive against Islamic State that started the week before, or whether they would have exploited any big gathering in Kabul on this day. Some fear this may be the beginning of a bigger presence of the terrorist group in Afghanistan which so far has been mainly confined to the eastern province of Nangarhar. Islamic State in Khorasan Province (ISKP), as they are officially called in Afghanistan, consists mainly of former members of the Pakistani Taliban (Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan) and fighters of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU). For the moment, however, the ongoing military offensive against ISKP seems to be quite successful in eastern Afghanistan, and they also face strong resistance from the Afghan Taliban.

I have a little bit of hope, therefore, that this ruthless attack might somehow play a part in putting the peace process between the Afghan government and the Taliban back on track. The fact that the Taliban quickly denied any responsibility for this suicide attack could maybe represent a tiny stepping stone towards peace in Afghanistan. For me personally this attack will not stop me from returning to Afghanistan. My next trip is already planned and in my current support role I will be assisting Afghan colleagues and project teams until at least March 2017. Over the years, I have experienced quite a lot of tension and turmoil in Afghanistan but this will never weigh up against all the beautiful things I have seen in this country and all the wonderful interactions I have had with Afghan people since 2005.

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Appreciating the Positive Moments of Researching Insecurity and Violence

 by Susan Hoppert-Flaemig, July 2016

Although being an academic requires spending an essential amount of time with desk work, the time spent ‘in the field’ is most important to advance in my thinking. Like other researchers, I tend to focus more on the problems rather than on the positive aspects of my topics. Dealing with issues of violence in Central America and the incapability of governments to contain violence, this can be become quite depressing. However, there are moments when I am reminded that the courage of a few people can make the difference, even if only one individual life is changed.

My first trip to Central America was in 1999. I was 18 years old and volunteered at the Casa del Niño, an orphanage in La Ceiba, Honduras. For one year I shared my life with a bunch of lovely wild boys. Many of these boys had experienced poverty, abandonment, abuse, and violence but they were also just children who wanted to laugh and play and live their lives. One of these children was Noe, he came to the Casa del Niño with his brother Carlos when he was about seven years old. He was one of the youngest of the group of about 25 boys, a sweet little kid, smart and playful, and I enjoyed spending time with him and Carlos. That year in La Ceiba opened my eyes about the enormous difficulties many people face every day who are affected by violence and poverty and who are neglected by the state.

I remained attached to the region. In recent years, Honduras gained the sad reputation of being the world’s most violent country.[1] La Ceiba is considered one of the ‘murder hotspots’.[2] In 2011 I came back to La Ceiba. Now a PhD researcher, I had just spent a few weeks of fieldwork in El Salvador. Before heading back to the UK, I wanted to visit some friends in Honduras. One of them was Tania who had been teaching at the Casa del Niño for many years and was now working as principal at an NGO called Niños de la Luz. Niños de la Luz was providing a home and education for children and young adults in a high risk neighbourhood. Tania was working with the same dedication, empathy and persistence I had observed at the Casa del Niño. I was shocked when she told me that most of the children I had met at Casa del Niño had died. At some point in their young lives they had become involved in the lethal business of Honduran street gangs of killings, drug addiction and extortion. It was depressing to think about the kids as young men who killed and were killed.

However, as Tania showed me around Niños de la Luz, we came across a young man whose face seemed somehow familiar. It was Noe, the little boy of the Casa del Niño! His way was exceptional. Not only had he managed to survive and stay healthy. He had also earned a degree in business administration and worked as the financial manager of the project. Seeing Noe alive, happy and thriving in his career was such a pleasure. It showed me that the brave work of all those committed to boys and young men at risk and trying to offer them an alternative to violence and crime is worth it. Researching issues of insecurity and violence is often about being confronted with people living in depressing and difficult situations. But it is worth highlighting and remembering the positive stories as they encourage us to keep engaging with the topic.

[1] According to the UNODC Global Study on Homicides, 90.4 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants were counted in 2012.

[2] http://www.insightcrime.org/news-briefs/regional-murder-hotspots-in-honduras.

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How to find a job after doing a PhD in the field of security

by Verena Brähler, 7 June 2015

I am working as a Research Manager for the Equality and Human Rights Commission in Great Britain. This is my first job since graduating from University College London with a PhD in Security and Human Rights. I really like my job but getting here was much harder than I anticipated. In this blog post I am sharing some of the lessons I learned, hoping that it will help others to transition successfully from doing a PhD to a professional job.

My personal job hunting experience

Between November 2013 and September 2014, I applied for 28 different positions. I spent the equivalent of three months’ full time work on networking, writing applications, getting references and filling out online application forms. I was unsuccessful in the first round on 20 occasions, never heard back anything from 3 organisations and made it to the next round on 5 occasions. Of those where I did make it to the next round, it took up to 8 months to hear back from them.

Timing is of the essence

The first time I applied for a full-time job was 10 months before I finished my PhD. In hindsight this was way too early. I was writing things like “I am currently completing a PhD” in my cover letter. Experienced recruiters know that if you haven’t submitted your PhD thesis yet, you are not mentally or “logistically” ready for a new job. The few applications where I was successful were the ones I wrote after I had defended my PhD thesis (read more about this experience here). That is why I would tell others that this is a good moment to start looking for a job, especially because in the UK, PhD students often need to do “minor corrections” after the defense which can take up to three months.

Prepare yourself mentally

You need to recognise that getting a job is a job and can take a long time. For most of the jobs I applied for I was told that between 250 and 650 other candidates applied (below are some examples of the jobs I applied for). You need to prepare yourself mentally for being turned down over and over again because it can be a very frustrating experience. The more realistic you are at the outset, the easier it will be to for you to deal with the fact that you are not getting interviews, or you get interviews, but you don’t get the job. At the same time you may see all your friends around you working on great career paths and it is easy to get disheartened and very down about yourself which is a dangerous spiral. Don’t internalise the job search – talk to your family, friends about the jobs you apply for, the interview you get or don’t get – there is no shame in applying for a job and not getting an interview, or getting an interview and then not getting the job.

Pick up the phone, networking is vital

In hindsight there was one thing that my 5 “more successful” job applications had in common, and that is that I had talked to someone in the organisation before I sent my application. I got in touch with these people mostly through contacts and colleagues I met over the years while doing my research. Linkedin is a great tool for that because it shows you who can put you in touch with someone in the relevant organisation. Don’t be ashamed to ask people you hardly know for some help. In the worst-case scenario your chances are something like 1 : 650 so you need any help you can get.

I asked people if they would be available for a quick phone call because I wanted to learn a little bit more about the organisation and the job in order to be able to write a better application. I never asked anyone to revise my application or give me any kind of insight knowledge that would put me at an unfair advantage compared to other applicants.

Everyone I contacted was happy to talk to me and these 30-minutes conversations proved to be extremely helpful for two reasons. Firstly, by preparing some interesting questions (”What does your daily routine look like?”, “Do you have a business strategy that underpins your work?” etc.) I learned a lot about the organisation, their culture and working style, their priorities and dislikes, and that indeed helped me to write a stronger application. Secondly, having had a friendly conversation with someone on the inside (didn’t matter so much at which level) might have helped (?) to end up on the pile of applications that were considered for the next round.

You will still have to go through the formal interviewing process, and your skills and competencies will be analysed fairly, but a recommendation or just a contact within the organisation can help enormously.

Sit down and write the application

Once you have made your phone call and you know a little bit more about the organisation and the specific role requirements, it is time to sit down and write the application. Nowadays most application processes are competency-based and every effort is made to eliminate assumptions, stereotyping and other forms of bias from the recruitment process. Recruiters are interested to know how you have handled situations in the past which are related to the knowledge, skills and abilities required for the job. Recruiters work on the principle that: „Past behaviour predicts future performance“. If you have successfully demonstrated certain knowledge, skill and abilities in the past, the chances are that you are likely to be able to do so again in the future.

The recruitment process of the British Civil Service, for instance, is entirely based on this principle. Applicants are asked to use the STAR approach (Situation, Task, Action, Result) to talk about their past achievements. This approach might seem very weird and rigid in the beginning but if you get behind the logic of it, it is very useful and I would definitely recommend everyone to have a look at it.

Here are some common mistakes that applicants tend to make:

  • Not providing a specific example of how they have demonstrated a competency in the past;
  • Not explaining clearly what the result/outcome/impact of their work was;
  • Using “we” instead of “I”, making it impossible for the recruiter to know exactly what their specific contribution was (opposed to what the team did);
  • Using passive language;
  • Exceeding the word count.

Ask for feedback

It is common practice these days to ask for feedback from an interview, particularly if you have been unsuccessful. It is very likely that you will just get a standard response or that giving individual feedback is not possible, but if you get it, it can service three important purposes:

  1. It will put your mind to rest – you may wonder why you didn’t get the job – they will tell you – you were a strong candidate but the successful candidate had more experience, or could evidence their skills more effectively.
  2. It can open other doors – you may have been exceptionally close to getting the role – sometimes employers make room for another person – following up shows that you are a professional and are interested in how you can improve your performance. They may be able to recommend another role for you within the organisation
  3. It may give you some important pointers in how to improve for next time.

Jobs in international organisation

Finally, here are some examples of international organisations that continuously recruit people through their young professional programmes. Please be aware that all of these programmes are highly competitive and getting through the process can take many months or even years.

  • Young Professionals Programme (YPP) – the general young professional programme of the United Nations
  • United Nations Volunteering (UNV) – it is called volunteering but you get paid
  • Junior Professional Officers (JPO) – JPOs work in UN organisations, the World Bank and other international organisations and are sponsored by their respective governments so you can only apply for positions advertised by your own government. In Germany, jobs are advertised twice a year on this website.
  • UK Civil Service Fast Stream
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FUNDING: Leach-RAI Post-Doctoral Fellowship, Brunel University (Department of Social Sciences, Media and Communications; Division of Anthropology)

Applications are invited for the 2015-16 Leach-RAI Fellowship tenable at Brunel University for one year, from 1 October 2015 (or as soon as possible thereafter).Salary is £33,508 per annum, plus London Weighting. Deadline for applications is June 12, 2015.

The Fellowship is open to a social or cultural anthropologist who has received their doctorate from an institution within the five years preceding the take-up of the award, or attained equivalent research, industrial or commercial experience, and who would be able to use the Fellowship to complete within the time limit a substantial piece of work for publication.

The Leach-RAI Fellowship programme is hosted by Brunel University, and funded by the University and the Esperanza Trust for Anthropological Research.

You will have the ability to draft research papers in publication in appropriate academic Journals, have experience of planning research, preparing research proposals and negotiate contracts with little supervision. You will also be able to demonstrate good communication skills, particularly the results of own research to both specialists and non-specialists.

Applications can downloaded from https://jobs.brunel.ac.uk/wrl/pages/vacancy.jsf?search=0. Applications should be accompanied by a full CV, one or two articles or their appropriate equivalent (no more than 1MB), details of the writing planned to be carried out under the Fellowship and the names, addresses and e-mail of three referees.

Deadline for applications is June 12, 2015.

If applicants have any questions about the fellowship they are invited to contact Dr Andrew Beatty from the Anthropology Division: andrew.beatty@brunel.ac.uk

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FELLOWSHIP: Drugs, Security and Democracy Fellowship

The Drugs, Security and Democracy (DSD) Program fellowship is designed to support short-term research that contributes to the literature on drugs in Latin America and the Caribbean on topics and countries that are central to drug policy discussions in the region and beyond.

The competition is open to applicants conducting research in Latin America or the Caribbean who are fully embedded in and committed to the region, and whose research focus has a clear and central connection to the field of drugs and to formulating sound drug policy. Successful applicants will be those whose work and interests best match, and who demonstrate a long-term commitment to, these program goals.

In addition to conducting individual research, DSD fellows should contribute to the development of a global interdisciplinary network of researchers engaged with drug policy and communicate their findings to relevant audiences over the course of their careers.

FELLOWSHIP RESEARCH AGENDA

DSD-funded research must address the primary theme of drugs in Latin America or the Caribbean. Proposals must demonstrate the potential for the research to contribute to a sound and credible knowledge base for informed advocacy and decision-making for drug policy. For the current fellowship competition, applications must address one of the following topics:

  • Drug policy / legal reform, including different depenalization, decriminalization, legalization, and regulation approaches as well as country-specific obstacles to reform
  • Marijuana, including legalization for medical use
  • Impact of drug laws on prison systems, including costs associated with pretrial detention for drugs
  • The dynamics and relationships between legal pharmaceutical drug markets and illicit drug production, including barriers to access and incentives/disincentives for producers
  • Drug policy and the peace process in Colombia
  • Analysis of institutional resource distribution between criminal and public health approaches to drug use
  • Drug economy and its dynamics

Preference will be given to candidates researching the aforementioned topics in Brazil, Caribbean countries, Central American countries, Colombia, Ecuador, Mexico, Peru, and Uruguay.

At the end of their fellowship tenure, fellows present to the program the results of their DSD-funded research along with a tentative plan for its dissemination. The program will work with fellows to choose an appropriate research deliverable, considering their fields, from the following list:

  • Research paper
  • Policy brief or white paper
  • In-depth news article or investigation
  • Proposal for legal reform
  • Multimedia production

In order to solidify and increase the knowledge of the region’s main actors in the drug field, DSD fellows are required, in the course of their research, to identify key stakeholders and any research gaps in the drug field in their research countries, as applicable.

ELIGIBILITY AND SELECTION CRITERIA

Applications are welcome from midcareer and senior researchers/scholars conducting research in Latin America and the Caribbean that addresses issues with a clear and central connection to the field of drugs and to formulating sound drug policy. Eligible applicants must

  • be fully embedded in and committed to the Latin American and Caribbean region;
  • hold a terminal degree in their field of study or clearly demonstrate equivalent research experience related to the field of drugs, with at least a bachelor’s degree in any discipline;
  • focus on one of the topics indicated in the section above; and
  • if proposing to conduct research in a nonnative language, provide evidence of sufficient language proficiency to carry out the project.

Preference in the selection process will be given to candidates

  • who are citizens of a Latin American or Caribbean country and are living and working in the region; and
  • whose research projects focus on one of the countries listed in the section above.

FELLOWSHIP TERMS

The DSD Program provides support for a minimum of three and a maximum of six months of research in Latin America and the Caribbean, including write-up of the research deliverable. Candidates must spend at least half of their fellowship tenure researching their relevant topic, with the remaining time devoted to writing their research results in one of the deliverable formats to be agreed upon by the program and the candidate.

Fellowship amounts vary depending on the research plan. The fellowship is intended to support an individual researcher, regardless of whether that individual is working alone or in collaboration with others. DSD fellowships do not offer support for dependents.

The fellowship includes mandatory participation in one interdisciplinary workshop. The workshop will be organized by the SSRC and held in Latin America in either July or August 2015. Travel and accommodations will be provided by the program. Fellows are required to be active participants in the DSD network and are expected to produce a policy-relevant deliverable in addition to fellowship reports.

Deadline: March 2nd, 2015, at 9 PM EST.

DSD Program is funded by the Open Society Foundations. The program is a partnership between OSF, the SSRC, Universidad de los Andes in Bogotá, Colombia, and Centro de Investigación y Docencia Económicas in Mexico. 

Additional Information

Contact

Program Staff

For more informatiom visit the website.

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First steps in your research: PhD peer review classes

By Jorrit Kamminga, February 2015

During my PhD trajectory, I spent six months in 2011 as a Visiting PhD. Research Scholar at the Department of Sociology of the London School of Economics (LSE). That allowed me to strongly improve both my theoretical framework and research methodology. One element of my scholarship really proved to be of added value: my enrolment in a PhD peer review class. I attended the peer review course (SO500 ‘Aims and Methods’) given by professors Dr Nigel Dodd and Dr Paddy Rawlinson. Such courses intend to help students formulate clear research objectives and methodologies, limit the scope of research to feasible proportions, and come up with a good planning of the research trajectory.

If not already part of the mandatory programme, I strongly advise students to look for such courses themselves, even outside their own faculty (where you may sit in on these courses as observer). If they are not available, the second-best thing is to try and start your own peer review group with a few fellow PhD students. The latter is still very useful, especially if you could talk a professor into joining the group from time to time on an informal basis. The support and feedback of professors is of course very important – especially as most PhD students start off with a plan encompassing ‘three PhDs’ or with unrealistic expectations or methodologies. Your own supervisor will, of course, normally help you avoid research pitfalls, but the feedback of other experienced professors, both within and outside of your research field, is a bonus.

But what is most interesting of peer review courses, especially early on in the PhD process, is the role of the ‘peers’ themselves: your fellow PhD students. They can provide you with ideas on where to focus your research, what additional sources (or theories) may be available, or on how to limit the scope of the research. In addition, they can be a great source of inspiration and motivation, especially as you realise you are not the only one struggling with difficult challenges early on in the research. The latter effect you may also get from talking to fellow students in the pub, but the formal structure of a course works better as you will be asked to present your research in a formal way.

Presenting the initial research methodology and plan to your peers stimulates you to think critically about what you are trying to achieve and how realistic your methodology is. It also gives you a deadline to present a research plan or progress made so far, which forces you to take your research to the next step. Peer review courses work best if students are asked to present their research at least twice, which means progress and the process of addressing challenges can be tracked.

Lastly, listening to and providing feedback on the research of others may also provide you with new ideas. It may even completely change your mind on the size and scope of your own research. I remember that I was quite ‘shocked’ when I heard a student had limited her research area to just one square in a Latin American city. I also remember the work of another student that did her research on the evolution of the concept of the ‘American dream.’ I never had thought about PhD research in terms of such ‘narrow’ (but complex) approaches, and it definitely helped to further narrow down my own research.

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Job: Course Instructor, Ecuador Seminar, Trent-in-Ecuador Program

The Department of International Development Studies at Trent University invites applications for an Instructor for a course, entitled ‘Ecuador Seminar’, to be taught in the Fall Semester on site at the Trent-in-Ecuador (TIE) Program in Quito.

The Ecuador Seminar (IDST 3880D) is a third year course in International Development Studies that consists of an examination of the major features of Ecuadorian economic, political and social life, with particular attention to regional and cultural diversity. Responsibilities in addition to course delivery and design (in cooperation with the Trent in Ecuador Director) include conducting occasional field trips.

Salary: $CAD 6956 plus approved  professional expenses, and return airfare to place of domicile if required.

Qualifications: social science expertise on Ecuador, and preferably on the Andean region; PhD (or doctorate near completion) or equivalent as well as ability to work in English and Spanish.

Deadline: March 31, 2015 or until position is filled.  C.V. and two letters of reference should be sent to danagee@trentu.ca

For more information: please contact

Winnie Lem
Professor and Director
Trent-in-Ecuador Program
Tel: 705-748-1011, Ext. 7785
Fax: 705-748-1624
Email: wlem@trentu.ca

For details about Trent’s Department of International Development Studies and the Trent-in-Ecuador Program go to www.trentu.ca/ids

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